by Jennifer Howard
Another year has begun, and our wildlife is already having a rough go of it. It is called mange. A pesky tiny, microscopic mite that burrows under the skin. Then lays its eggs, causing scratching, licking, hair loss, open sores and so much discomfort. The animal’s tail becomes bare, eyes get crusted over, ears get crusty, the face and lower legs are affected, chest and neck, and the skin gets raw. This is called Sarcoptic mange. The eggs hatch within three days after the female mite has tunnelled under the skin and laid them. Male and female mites continue to mate, burrowing tunnels through the animal’s skin, causing this hard crusty buildup.
Coyotes and foxes appear to have been hit hard this year, although mange also can affect bears, skunks, wolves, and porcupines. For the most part, unless the case is serious, it is difficult to fool the animals into going into a livetrap. These are very smart animals, however, eventually, they cannot see, and their nose guides them to food, for which they become desperate since they are no longer able to hunt.
Usually, when we admit the animals suffering from mange to the centre, they are dehydrated and starving and have hardly any fur left. And yes, an animal can die if it does not get help. The mange can spread to a whole family and more.
Injured and sick animals that come to the centre need to be checked over, then weighed so that the correct medication doses can be determined. As part of the treatment plan, many small meals throughout the day are given. Medications are administered and keeping the animal quiet is the order of the day. Along with the medication to treat mange they may also need antibiotics and anti-inflammatory meds. They feel extremely sick and are very scared. Depending on the issues, they then are kept quiet and are monitored. They are stressed enough. We interfere as little as possible while they are healing, making sure everything is going according to plan and ensuring the treatments are going in the right direction. The animals tell us when they are feeling better by their behaviour and they also tell us when things just are not going well.
Mange itself is easily treatable. But if they have had it for a long time other underlying issues can develop such as pneumonia. Mange can be passed from one animal to another if in close contact with each other, for example, inside a den through the bedding or direct contact. Dogs can get mange too. But do not worry. It is easily treated by your veterinarian, however, if you notice your dog scratching and losing hair and its skin looking raw, call your vet right away; do not wait. As for wild animals and pets, it is a matter of getting them the proper care before other things go wrong.
I have livetrapped mangy foxes in previous years with great luck, however, they were in serious condition; dehydrated, starving and practically bald with open sores everywhere. All came home after three months of having been rehabilitated in a wildlife rehabilitation centre; this is before I knew of Procyon Wildlife. Now that I am with Procyon, I have brought in many animals that have needed care in one way or another. The best part, as always, is when you get to set them free again.
One of these animals, that was rescued in the past, is a fox, now the mother of three beautiful kits born just this past year; she and her kits are so dear to me. I have an incredibly special place in my heart for our little fox friends. They are so beautiful, so small and curious, and they are amazing rodent eaters/controllers. To watch them romp and play and raise their young is incredibly beautiful. But you must give them their space, respect them, and let them be. Never feed them as they may get habituated to humans, and not all humans are kind.
No, they do not eat your cats, oh they could take on a small cat or kitten but think about it. Cats have four paws full of claws and they know how to use them. Foxes, as I mentioned, are quite small, averaging 3-7kg for an adult red fox, so roughly around 7-15lbs. The best scenario for your cats is to keep them inside to live out a long healthy and safe life. They are predators themselves killing over 1 million baby birds and animals a year, especially during the spring baby season.
So, if you see a fox or any wild animal with mange, call your nearest wildlife rehabilitation centre right away. Try to learn the animal’s routine; this is particularly important information to successfully trap them. Get the community to help, but do not feed them since this will hamper the animal from being hungry enough to go into the baited livetrap. Traps must be put in a safe place, sheltered and covered, and monitored by checking every two hours, or less. Keep your pets and kids away from them. If the animal does go into the livetrap call us or another wildlife rehab centre right away, put in a dark quiet safe place with a warm cover over the cage and make arrangements to bring the animal in as quickly as possible.
If you are unsure who to call, visit http://www.ontariowildliferescue.ca/ They will have a list of rehabilitation centres in Ontario or call us directly at 905 729 0033. Procyon Wildlife is in Beeton, Ontario. Leave a message and we will get back to you soon. Never try to rehab a wild animal on your own.
In early January I received a message from a friend about a fox near me in trouble; it had taken up refuge in a feral cat shelter in someone’s yard. She went out to feed the cats not knowing that there was a fox in there. The fox was startled and came out. The lady was surprised and saw the little thing needed help. Long story short, it went off into the woods that night but returned in the morning. A livetrap was set.
We hoped it would come out of the shelter and into the trap but no such luck; it was hunkered down. Six hours later we were able to finally capture him. He was a tiny little male fox, very feisty and wanting nothing to do with us. He was a mess, goopy eyes and his face looked all swollen, generally bad all over. He was put on meds after he was weighed and fed a small amount. He was vet checked by Dr. Rebecca, who shaved his head and got his eyes all fixed up. She removed the many cement-like patches from around his eyes which were making his head look swollen and his eyes sunken in. He could not even blink and whenever he tried, his eyes clicked. We flushed his eyes twice daily and then Dr. Rebecca gave us antibiotic drops to administer. This fox was named Scout by the finder and is recuperating nicely now. He hates us but has behaved particularly well for us. He loves his room service and is starting to look and feel better after three weeks. He grumbles at us which sounds more like purring; this sweet soul has been through enough. He has a long way to go since he was in just bad condition. Before treatment, his body was covered in hard cement-like crusts, he couldn’t regulate his body temperature and he couldn’t see well. As wildlife rehabbers, to see those beautiful eyes looking at us is worth so much to us; no words can truly express how we feel.
Then another fox needed our attention. I had spotted her a week or two before Scout was found. Then a call came into Procyon from a man who was concerned about a little fox that looked sick. I was called because they knew I was looking for a sick fox. As luck would have it, it was the same fox. I called the man and we worked together to capture this fox who was often seen frequenting the area around his home, which fortunately was part of this fox family’s routine places to visit. Perfect. Three days later, this little fox went into the trap. She was hungry. Her face and eyes were affected and her tail but otherwise she looked fairly good. We covered her up, kept the car quiet and off we went. Since she was not yet as ill as Scout was, when we captured him, she was a little spunkier riding in the back of my SUV.
Now just over two weeks later she is showing big signs of wanting out. Her eyes are open and her face is beautiful, however, the fur on her tail needs to grow back some more. In early February, she will be moved into an outside enclosure where she will still be protected from the weather. We need to get her acclimatized to outdoor temperatures again and to help her fur grow back quicker. After hopefully two more weeks I will be able to bring her back home and set her free. She will be protected from mange and other things. She will find her family; her parents and siblings. Her name is Arya, named by the finder’s daughter. She is beautiful, I have seen her on and off for some time and because I am active in my community, people would tell me when they saw her, concerned for her health. So, working together she was caught and will be home soon.
I have lived here in this small community for 30 years. Watching this fox family generation after generation running, playing, hunting and being foxes. Watching their young grow, helping if they have needed help, mourning if one was hit by a car and killed. They are a part of us all here. I am so looking forward to setting this little life free again. And then the other fox hopefully soon down the road. His finder is anxious to see him back home in the wilds.
There have been a couple of foxes in the Alcona area of Innisfil, within a close time frame, that took up refuge in feral cat shelters. Be mindful if this happens and get them help ASAP. When capture is successful, please do a thorough cleanup of that shelter. Since these mites can live away from a host for a week or more depending on the temperature, remove all the bedding, and spray down the shelter with a mixture of javex and water, let dry and replace with fresh clean straw and bedding.
If you are considering providing a feral cat shelter in your area, make sure your shelter has two entrances. This could save a life if a predator like a dog or coyote tries to get in because the cat can get out. Since you are after all putting food out to help the cats, you may get other visitors as well like opossums, who can also get mange and could be looking for a warm place. Their ears and tails can be prone to frostbite. Again, we can help. Just call 905 729 0033.
Since most of us are at home due to Covid-19, enjoy your neighbourhood wildlife encounters. They are very special beings that are very important, one and all, to our environment’s ecosystem. We need them and we need to learn to coexist with them. They were here first and are sharing their space with us.
We can learn an awful lot from our wildlife. Pay attention, keep your distance, do not feed, but do enjoy. If you do feed the birds, try to keep the area around your feeder clean of debris since you may attract somebody you do not really want near your home. Seed attracts rodents and rodents attract coyotes, fox and wolves depending on where you live. Keep it safe for you and your pets, and your wildlife.
And please remember, mange cannot be treated on your own. The medication needs to be given to the animal knowing its weight. If given the wrong amount they can get sick or worse, if the wrong animal gets it, including your pet, they can die. It is after all, a medication. In addition, the animal more than likely also needs antibiotics and or anti-inflammatory medication and other care to help get it better. Make that call. We will do all we can to help you.
So, remember, if you should see an animal in need, call us ASAP. We are there for you!
Procyon volunteer / Photographer